When responding to a significant client brief, it’s tempting to immediately start looking for creative solutions. To use a building analogy though, this is like making colour selections in your new house without first having laid the foundations.
The starting point in effectively developing a brand strategy, is to have a deep understanding of the product you are charged with communicating about, and the customers you’re seeking to connect with.
In developing a strategic position, it’s best practice to draw on a range of information sources including formal and informal research, insights, market feedback, and possibly your own previous experience – together, this will help formulate a creative campaign and execution that talks specifically to an identified target market group.
Our recent work prior to the launch of a new model for a challenger European capital equipment brand, saw us analyse the following questions with a view to better understanding how the range should be marketed:
- Understanding the buyer persona – who exactly are we trying to talk to?
- What information sources do they utilise?
- What is/are their key buying criteria?
- What is the competitive landscape?
- What challenges does this present?
- What real market feedback do we have on the brand and its previous models?
The buyer persona – who are we trying to talk to?
In the case of prospective buyers for the new equipment model, we identified these people as being practical and business-minded.
While they appreciated the quality and reputation of premium European brands, they will consider another option if there is a compelling upside without risk. That upside must make a difference to their business.
They are also less bound to more prestigious European brands and view capital equipment as a tool rather than a status symbol. And because of the applications they work in, and the calibre of the companies they contract or sub contract to, the highest levels of safety, comfort and emissions are non-negotiable – that’s why they don’t consider many of the Japanese brands, who in most cases struggle to meet all the required specification criteria.
When talking to these buyers, you must respect their business smarts and equipment knowledge and target the buying triggers that are important to them in a factual manner. For business savvy buyers, there is less likelihood that they will make an emotional purchase, instead focusing on functionality, and how the equipment stacks up as a business tool.
What information sources do they use?
While the last decade has seen a significant shift to an online shopping environment for many consumer (and some business) goods; in the capital equipment sales market – there is still an important role to be played by the face-to-face salesperson and other ‘personal’ information sources.
This position was supported by industry research which showed that half of all buyers saw the salesperson at a dealership as their preferred useful information source.
Word of mouth sources such as colleagues, peers and drivers were also important. Additionally, these sources are well supported by a range of online portals.
What is/are their buying criteria?
In unpacking the key criteria for our target buyers, we again consult the formal research study noted above to identify this.
The research provided valuable insights around the following buying criteria: price, safety features, warranty, servicing and parts cost, previous experience with the brand, ability to customise the product offering to the customer’s needs, ability to test drive the product, and whether the equipment was Australian-made.
What is the competitive landscape?
Very few (if any) products have the luxury of operating in a competitor-free environment, and the Australian and New Zealand capital equipment markets are two of the most competitive in the world, with a large number of brands competing for relatively small volumes.
Our client’s wide model breadth meant that the new variants would be competing in several weight classes against offerings from both Japan and Europe.
There’s is a clear distinction between buyer requirements of Japanese equipment versus European alternatives. Positioned for the high-end buyer, many of the European brands leverage their long term ‘brand value’ to tell their credentials story and target specific messaging at key buyer-centric criteria with information around safety, technology, low emission performance and comfort.
In contrast, the Japanese brands tend to adopt a more ‘affordable fit-for-purpose’ positioning while still referencing key buyer criteria including safety and reliability.
What challenges does this present?
For our client, a major challenge in marketing its new model is that the positioning is different depending on the weight class – targeting what we can call the Japanese end of the market, needs a different approach to the heavier segments where the Europeans typically compete and dominate.
In the markets in which the Japanese are strongest such as metro and urban, operators typically select a more utilitarian machine – something that’s sharply priced and basic but still does the job adequately. Against these competitors, our client’s model was more expensive – yes it had more features, safety, better comfort etc, but for most buyers, this may not justify a price premium.
Where the new model battled against Europeans at the higher end of the market, it was competitive against its rivals on a specification basis, but did not have a single unique competitive advantage. It also lacked the brand awareness of many of its rivals, but with the new model, it was the sum of all parts that would make it attractive. So our strategy was to focus efforts on the markets where it had the best fighting chance to be adopted and to achieve volume and market share penetration.
What real market feedback do we have on the brand and its previous models?
Returning to the second paragraph of this article, in particular our statement that: “to have a deep understanding of the product you are charged with communicating about, and the customer you’re seeking to connect with.”
In developing our strategy, we not only accessed industry research into the Australian Market, we also conducted our own investigations, speaking to a range of relevant sources that included:
- Senior industry editors and equipment testers
- A selection of our client’s sales staff in both dealership sales roles (Dealer Principals and Sales Consultant and company roles (Sales Managers)
- Several existing machine operators who owned our client’s models
Their feedback allowed us to better understand the benefits of the new model which assisted to identify opportunities for the range, while unearthing several potential negatives about the new release which allowed us to address and mitigate these perceptions particularly at a sales level.
Step one in developing an effective brand strategy, definitely begins with research.